My first experience with educational computing
was a visit to a commercial learning clinic in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1981. It
was owned by a professor, Dr. Funderburk, at Wingate College, whose course, Diagnostic/Prescriptive
Reading, I was taking. The first thing that I saw when our class entered the
clinic was a computer. It was was mostly colored gray and looked like something from
the bridge of a battle ship.
At that time, I knew nothing
about what personal computers could do. I imagined that you turned them on and lights started
blinking on the screen. Dr. Funderburk took us on a tour of the clinic, conspicuously
avoiding the computers. As he dismissed us at the end, I asked, pointing toward the
computer, "What do you use that for?"
He responded with a grin, and motioned me over
toward the machine. I sat down at the computer, he flipped it on and when the word
"Ready" appeared on the screen he leaned over and started typing words. I
was absolutely floored. He was talking to this computer through the keyboard.
After a moment a cassette deck started whirring and a moment later a list of options
appeared on the screen. He called it a Menu. The professor pressed a
couple of more keys and then said, "solve this problem."
I was confronted with a long division problem for
which I was to type the answer. I calculated the answer in my head (it wasn't very
hard) and then typed in the answer. At Dr. Funderburk's prompt, I pressed the Enter
key and for the next twenty seconds, pixel by pixel, a smiling face appeared. I
pressed the Enter key again, and it gave me a second problem. This
time I entered a wrong answer and for twenty seconds I watched the computer, pixel by
pixel, display a frowning face, indicating that I had entered the wrong answer. Then
it gave me same problem again.
I was sold. Since that day, I have been
fortunate to have witnessed a tital wave of technology wash through our civilization and
through our classrooms. For many of us, it has flowed over. For others, the
wave has swept us along on a great adventure, where each year holds so much more than
teaching the same thing with the same textbook and same worksheets. Many of us know
that the classrooms that we retire from will be radically difference and intensely more
exciting than the ones we entered out of college...and this is electrifying.
All of the years since that time have culminated
in this book, Raw Materials for the Mind. I've thought about this book
since leaving the NC State Department of Public Instruction and becoming
an education consultant (trying to make a living as an educator without a job). I was told
that the best thing a consultant could do for business was to write a book
But for me, I love to teach, and this book is another way of teaching.
I discussed my project with friends who have
written books and as a result of their advice, came to the conclusion that the best route
for me was to self-publish. The most important reason for self-publishing was my
erratic schedule teaching workshops for teachers and conference presentations.
So I set
about to write, edit, reorganize, draw, layout, reorganize again, read and reread, and
rewrite. This happened in my basement office, in hotel rooms and restaurants, in
airports, and once or twice at 30,000 feet. I refined and focused my messages at
workshops across the country and continued to adapt my writing to what I continued to
Finally, I started printing the book with my
DeskJet printer and giving it to friends and associates to read, edit, and react to.
The reaction was enthusiastic, the edits were voluminous, and my confidence rose. I
edited, refined, added and continued to edit. Finally I laid out the text and images,
constructed the table of contents and index, saved it as a post script file, and had it
This experience has furthered my belief of how
the Internet and personal technologies can help us accomplish seemingly impossible
tasks. Through this technology I produced a book, I researched and learned about
self-publishing. I ordered and paid for my ISBN number, contracted with another
company to produce the bar-code image through the Internet and received the bar-code file
by e-mail. I learned about copyright and the process for registering my book with
the library of congress. I learned how to layout the book and how to talk with
To me, this was an example of distance
learning...being able to find and retrieve the information that you need, to learn what
you need to know, to do what you need to do -- right now.
All this being said, perhaps the most challenging
endeavor has been finding a way to accept credit cards through this web site. As is
my fashion, I set to the Internet and searched for companies that would process credit
cards online. Using the process described in Raw Materials for the Mind, I
settled on a company in The Netherlands. Then I spent parts of three days trying to
figure out how to evaluate the company's reputation. I talked many times with people
at MasterCard. Then I went on to the Better Business Bureau and then to the
Department of Commerce the Federal Exchange Commission and even the FBI. The person
with whom I spoke at the FBI said that Holland has quite stringent laws regarding business
practices, which was the best advice I'd gotten, but it still wasn't enough.
Finally my wife (she dislikes computers which is
actually a move in the right direction) picked up the phone book and found three companies
that provide the service here in Raleigh, North Carolina, in just 10 minutes. I
called two of them, she called one, and she talked her company down in price.
Another lesson in using the right technologies.
I hope that you enjoy my book, Raw Materials
for the Mind.